Can TV continue to be live?

NBC’s live showing of “Peter Pan” is more than just a delight to the nation’s children. It might also be signaling the beginning death throes of an industry.

The question now is whether that dying industry is the traditional cable companies that deliver TV live, or the companies that produce that content.

Although it is common knowledge that printed media are in financial trouble, less commonly known is that network TV’s business model is quickly facing the same issues the newspapers were faced with back in the ‘90s.

According to Nielson’s Total Audience Report issued Dec. 3, 2014, viewership of traditional live TV by the typical American adult fell by 12 minutes in 2014 from the previous year. That is a decline of 4 percent. And that is after a similar 2 percent drop from 2012.

We are now watching 18 fewer minutes of live TV than we were two years ago.

Along with those falling viewership ratings, network TV advertising revenues were also down nearly 4 percent last year.

The thing is, total “TV” consumption time didn’t fall. In fact, we are spending more minutes consuming “TV” content than we have in the last few years. So where are those minutes going?

It turns out, we are watching more time-shifted TV (which is an industry term to mean we are using digital video recorders such as TiVo to record a show and watch it later.) We are using our DVD/Blue-Rays a bit more. We are using our game consoles to stream video a little more.

But the real growth has been in smartphone usage to consume video. We are spending more than an hour and a half each week on average watching video content on a smartphone.

And as it turns out, we are spending less time watching live TV than we are spending watching it through some alternate delivery.

So what? What does this all mean? It means that as consumers continue to demand more control over delivery methods and timing of their television programing, it is the providers of live programing who are ultimately losing out.

They are now facing the smaller audiences, and the dilemma of “trading real world dollars for digital dimes.”

It seems that the last bastions of live TV are sports, and the reemerging genre of live television events, such as “Peter Pan,” and last year’s “Sound of Music.”

The question now is whether audiences will bite and watch those shows live, or whether “Peter Pan” will sit, recorded on a DVR until we are ready to watch.

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Differentiation is key for a media company to survive

The key to keeping a competitive advantage in news is to think about milk. Yup, the white stuff at the supermarket.

Here’s why: milk is a commodity. In economic terms, a commodity is something people will choose based purely on price. It is available from many different sources, and what is in the bottle is the same, regardless of what that source might be.

Sadly, information can also be a commodity. And, for most information, the lowest price is free.

(Just think about that often-misquoted phrase: “Information wants to be free” … the real phrase by Stewart Brand goes like this: “On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it is so valuable … On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time.” Everyone seems to forget that whole “expensive” piece. But I digress.)

So, how do you get people to pay a premium for a commodity? Let’s look at that dairy aisle to find out.

Rise above the commodity level with unique, targeted content.

Rise above the commodity level with unique, targeted content.

If you head to the grocery store and the one thing you were looking for was 2 percent milk, then when you walk up to that daunting wall-o-cow-juice, you will turn your eyes to one thing and one thing only – the price.

If all you want is 2 percent milk, then you are not going to buy the expensive name brand with the pretty picture of the cow. You are going to buy milk, and you are going to buy it cheap.

But there is a selection there at the dairy aisle.

Surely it isn’t there as some obscure modern art piece. People must be buying all different kinds of milk in order to justify its spot on that oh-so-valuable grocery store shelf.

How, then, can grocers ask you to pay different prices when you are essentially getting the same exact thing just in different bottles?

The grocer does it by offering something that you can’t get in that generic bottle. In the case of the brand name, you are buying a story. You are buying image. You are buying status – even if it is just a status that you hold in your own mind.

To you, the story that begins with you buying milk that is 20 percent more expensive ends with you being a better parent or a wealthy person, or however your version of the story goes. You pay for the best milk after all.

The thing is, most people don’t care about THAT story. So, they grab the generic milk.

But if you look closer at the milk aisle, there is more there. There are other tricks to get you to pay more for milk. As you look up on the higher shelves, you see different kinds of milk that appeal to different people and that, most importantly, are not available in generic.

You have soy and organic. But now even those are becoming commoditized. So, now you have almond and acidophilus, and even hyper local milk that fits into our new narrative about who we are.

You even have other things that are made out of milk but are not the actual commodity – cheese, yogurt, whipping cream, butter.

So, what does this have to do with news and the business of journalism?


We need to learn how to take our product – news, information, entertainment and community resources – and we need to package them so we are not lumped in with the commodities of BuzzFeed and the click-bait digital sweatshops.

We need to find new and different ways to tell our stories that may not be the traditional forms of news.

What does news yogurt look like? We better find out if we want a future for our industry.

We need to get up on that higher shelf. Information is only valuable if it is scarce – that is, rare and desired.

Some news outlets can do this by being hyper local. Others do this by specializing in a niche area. Still others do it by commenting on the news with comedy, snark or pundit-fueled yelling.

The bottom line is that the profitable news outlets are the ones that are reporting on news and information that they are able to create better than anyone else in the world. And they are also choosing to cover areas and topics that have interested and engaged audiences.

Their product is not a commodity. It is scarce – rare and valued.

They moved up onto the top shelf. Now they need to just figure out how to actually get paid.

photo 3

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Where is the PR in the news media?


Photo by Nieuton May

One of the hypocrisies that always amazes me is how seldom media companies use public relations and advertising campaigns to promote themselves to potential audiences.

Newspapers may be the worst, but by no means are they exempt.

The sales teams from these media companies go out to businesses all across America and preach the gospel of promotion: “if you aren’t promoting yourself, then the next ad you run will be for your going out of business sale” was one of the favorite lines used by Kodi Wilson, one of the most gifted salespeople I have ever worked with.

But when it comes time for media companies to promote themselves, the tactics they do choose are often sad, bordering on incompetent.

TV stations dedicate unsold ad time for internal promotions. That’s great, but who is going to see these ads, if not people who have already chosen to watch? Newspapers preach the power of mass media, but then when it comes time to sell subscriptions what do they do, but telemarket and solicit one-on-one in public places, like grocery stores.

The most progressive media companies serve as sponsors of events and festivals. And while that is great, we need our media companies to step up even beyond that.

Media companies need to practice what they preach and start buying ad space to promote themselves to potential audience members who have not chosen them — and not just house ads in their own space. Those are worthless, because think about it, who is going to see them except for the audience they already have? They need to be doing proper media buys using proper media planning tactics.

Newspapers need to begin reaching out to its audience members and explain to them why they still matter.

Where are the ad campaigns about being good citizens and staying up to date with the community news? Where are the ad campaigns about civic engagement through reading? Where are the speaking tours talking about our relevance?

If we don’t believe in ourselves enough to promote our products, then why should we be surprised when nobody believes in us either?

Because, maybe that next ad we run will be our going out of business ad.

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